Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who you gonna blame?

George Tiller, one of the few doctors willing to perform late-term abortions and the operator of one of only three clinics in the nation that perform them, was shot and killed this morning while handing out programs in the foyer of his church in Wichita, Kansas.

This is what we know:
  • In 1985, his clinic was bombed.
  • In 1991, thousands of anti-abortion protesters descended on Wichita and blocked off his clinic.
  • In 1993, he was shot in both arms.
  • In March of this year, after a five-day trial, a jury took less than one hour to find him not guilty of performing late term abortions without the oversight required under Kansas law.
  • The day the verdict was announced, the Kansas Board of Health Examiners said that it would begin proceedings to revoke his license to practice medicine.
  • His clinic has been vandalized repeatedly.
  • A man named Scott Roeder has been arrested and will, according to authorities, be charged on Monday with the killing.
It seems a fair inference that Tiller was killed for being an abortion provider. Certainly, it's an inference that pretty much everyone from the NARAL which has honored him to Operation Rescue which has tried to shut him down. Still, it's worth remembering that when the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, authorities immediately began looking for men from the Middle East. The usual suspects are often guilty, but not always. Major anti-abortion groups have been quick to attempt to distance themselves from the killing and the killer insisting that they are all absolutely devoted to life and would never support any killing (though I haven't seen most of them joining in the struggles against the Iraq war or the death penalty). Still, some can't seem to muster the proper level of outrage. Case in point, this note from an article on the killing in USA Today (here):
The Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Save America, which calls itself the national successor to Operation Rescue, said he had been confronting Tiller over abortion since meeting him in 1991 during their "Summer of Mercy" protests outside Tiller's clinic.

"He has shed the blood of countless thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of little baby boys and girls and burned them up in his on-premises incinerator," Benham, a Concord, N.C., preacher, said. "Now this thing has come home to him."

But if the Reverend Bentham thinks the chickens have come home that's mild, here's what Operation Rescue's founder is quoted as saying:
Randall Terry, a veteran anti-abortion activist whose protests have often targeted Tiller. "George Tiller was a mass murderer and we cannot stop saying that," Terry said. "He was an evil man - his hands were covered with blood."
And, of course, followers of Fred Phelps from the Westboro Baptist Church )the ones who show up at military funerals to explain that god wanted this or that death because the US isn't sufficiently anti-gay) showed up to protest at a vigil for Tiller's memory holding "signs emblazoned with such messages as 'Abortion is bloody murder' and 'Baby killer in hell.'" (Story here.)

But for all those who may rejoice at the killing of one they describe as a killer, there's another group quick to label the rejoicers themselves as killers.

A tweet from Markos Moulitsas of The Daily Kos wonders "
Who'll be the next target of O'Reilly's and Beck's ire to get gunned down by domestic conservative terrorist?" Adele Stan has a blog entry on The Huffington Post captioned, "Tiller Murder: Ann Coulter's Happy Day?" And from David Zephyr at, "Bill O'Reilly is Responsible for Tiller's Murder. The blood is on his hands."

Perhaps it's not too much to suggest a pause in the vitriol.

A man is dead. Whoever killed him, and whatever drove the killer to it, that's a salient fact, and one about which we ought to reflect.

In an altogether different murder case, many years ago, the evidence was overwhelming that the defendant was guilty of killing his ex-wife in front of something like seven young children. It was a horrible case. The community was outraged.

The young prosecutor, new to the job and sensing a winner, jumped up for closing argument, "Ladies and Gentlemen," he chirped to the jury, "We have terrific facts." He explained the evidence, how the jury had but one choice.

Defense counsel stood and walked slowly toward the jury. He looked down. He looked at his client. He looked at the jurors. "These aren't terrific facts. These are tragic facts."

They were. And they are.

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